Thursday, August 25, 2016


Religion is not revealed truth.  Religion is institutions (some dogmatic and some not) that translate a culture into a system that can be consulted, performed, relied upon to store wisdom.  In many instances (ideally) religious practices distill the ecologically and economically anchored ways of people as individuals and groups into a rhythm of symbols and practices that guides life streams.  If that begins to fail, there is trouble.

Praying to a Father God no one believes in as a possible humanoid entity, and that no one really expects to intervene as you ask for it, is practicing emptiness.  We’ve got enough of that in this culture.  Our government, our economy, our sense of citizen solidarity, are all challenged at their core.  This is directly related to losing God, not to death but by evaporation.  Why do we keep up the pretense?

Because that original tribal conception of a mighty leader capable of helping out his family is the base of religious machinery that depends upon that idea.  Think Pope, the Catholic one, not Rev. Pope-Lance.  Institutions within institutions, hierarchies function and provide jobs for people so long as they don’t look down and realize their foundation has long since packed up and left.  Think Trump, who turns out to be deeply in debt.  Think the accumulation of wealth (this includes Mother Teresa) in the face of overwhelming need.

In trying to understand why “Buffy the Vampire-Slayer” has become a model for ministry that authorizes middle-aged educated women to attack male ministers because they teased those women as teens is simply insane.  (If they were rural women they would have been used to being sent to town for some mythical machinery part and other tricky snipe hunts.  It's affection.  Paying attention.  One laughs.) To be enraged decades later is out of proportion.

Those who need proof that our culture is based on media fantasies need look no further than the success of J.J. Abrams who has discovered that if the protagonist of his story is a fierce young beautiful woman with superhuman skills, this works great as the core of even a Western like Star Wars.  It’s the Princess Leia factor.. If there are enough blood, explosions and mutants, it will not be considered a chick-flik so much as a great date adrenaline provider.  You know where that can go.

1894, 25th anniversary of the first Universalist Service

We’ve come a long way from the 19th century society ladies who preached while wearing hats, mostly basing their authority on the Progressive attack on sin, suffering and poverty.  (That went well, didn’t it?  Especially slaying the Demon Rum.)  Our present crop of female ministers seems to be doubling back, though I never hear that they preach about heroin, child trafficking, or — um — poverty.  They lean more to the therapeutic.  Love as an antibiotic.  The Devil is represented by treacherous men.

In the meantime, “On July 1, the Rev. Harlan Limpert will become the chief operating officer of the Unitarian Universalist Association. This will be the first time the UUA has given a senior executive the title of COO; the new position will replace the office of the executive vice president, which Kay Montgomery has held since 1985.”  In other words, the management replaced a glamorous insider female with a manager trained by Target.  At 51 he felt he needed the rewards of idealistic service.  His model for a successful denomination is iTunes.  I hope he was kidding.

I first met Harlan as a rather randy young intern minister at First Unitarian Church in Portland in the Seventies.  His behavior was impeccable, but I’m the kind of null-woman that men confide in.  (They are not getting an accurate vibe.  Must be the spectacles.)  He was not able to think in preacher’s terms.  As far as I know, he has never served a congregation as their minister, though he has always been active in UU circles and was a chaplain at St. Elizabeth’s mental hospital in Washington, D.C. 

Harlan Limpert then

Harlan Limpert now

He says there are two secrets to his success:  he expects work to be tough and he can handle low pay.  If this were really the secret of success, there would be many more female COO’s.  Harlan has been happily married for decades and has never married a member of his congregation.  (Not having a congregation eliminates that accusation.)  The real secret of his success IMHO is that, as Montgomery says,  “He’s so nice.”  Niceness is now the key to the UUA.

The basic pattern of American Christian life is not outer space, nor the military, nor any primarily urban model.  Rather it is still agriculturally based and therefore so is its basic idea of sex: the productive family.  It’s hard to bend that around to being same-sex or polyamorous or even celibate.  It is rooted in the idea that the man runs the farm and the woman runs the house.  It is friendly to extended family, even if some of the family members are needy, but not if they belong to someone else.  The idea is that the minister is the grandfather — see “Blue Bloods.”  Tom Selleck: herd bull.  This paradigm is now obsolete.

Any institution that has lost its power to reproduce itself, its potency in the culture, is castrated by definition.  Love is not prowess.  There went the seminaries (seed beds).  A certain amount of bullshit is necessary for fertility — no bull, no growth.  That’s about as far as that metaphor can go and probably farther than it should have gone.

In 1975 when I first began to step through the gender-separation curtain — not just in religious institutions but also in cop and government settings — there was a joke that went:  “If you want to fuck the opposite sex, be sure to do it a hundred miles away from home.  If you want to fuck the same sex, be sure do it five hundred miles away from home.  If you want to fuck a sheep. . .” and there the joke split off between rural and urban.  As Bob Scriver (who was a justice of the peace and city magistrate) used to say, “if you do something outrageous enough, no one will figure it out or even notice.”  Thus, instead of sheep, one can use small boys.  Or poodles.

This was labeled "South African Humor"

What I see is a denomination that is too nice to allow a bull into the pulpit.  One of the reasons I gave up on ministry was that it meant living in a city.  I did not know that the new city, the new congregation, was going to be world-wide and online.  I don’t think we know what that means yet.  How is a glass screen different from a pulpit?  How is it the same?  How do we share a cuppa with a buddy if we’re separated by thousands of miles?  Skype?  I assume it is through empathy, stories, music, art, and crazy metaphors that make us laugh.  At least, that’s the evidence I have so far.  Nobody but Buffy cares that much about who fucked whom decades ago.  The paradigm has left the feedlot.

When I began to challenge this misguided Berry Street essay, the UUA told me it was entirely the responsibility of the UU Ministers’ Association, which told me it was entirely the responsibility of the Berry Street essay committee (damn committees anyway) who told me it was entirely the responsibility of the actual speaker.  

Baloney.  Many others were speaking through her.  The leader of a cow herd — rural people know — is never the bull, who goes off to take a nap after doing his duty.  The real path finder is always an older and very experienced cow.  Not me.  I used to get upset and complain about low standards.  Now I only care when a friend is unfairly attacked. I still can't figure out the motive.

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